Saturday, April 16, 2011

Choosing Joy

I cannot believe that more than a month has passed since my last post.  Much has been going on in our lives and in my heart in these last few weeks, and I have just been trying to process it all through myself before sharing it with you.  Shortly after we returned from Disney World, we set out to finish our application.  However, if you read my last post, you know that things in Ethiopia were somewhat in limbo when we left for vacation.  During the week after we got home, we spent a lot of time talking through what would happen if Ethiopia was no longer an option.  Our agency had first recommended to us that we look at either Ethiopia or Bulgaria, as they appeared to be the best fits for our family.  Ironically, those were the only two countries we had ever really felt led to explore.  However, when we started our journey toward Ethiopia, we felt like that was the direction that God was leading us.  So, this first week back from vacation, I spent a lot of time asking God why He would lead us in a direction only to have the door close.  I get that it happens.  I have heard the stories of others who have had the exact thing happen to them…people who were much further down the path than us.  I had friends telling me of their friends who were going through the same thing as us, wondering what was going on in Ethiopia, and they were ALL further in the process than us.  And, then, God reminded me of a story through a sermon that our dear Pastor John preached.  He reminded me of the story of Abram…

“The Lord said to Abram: Leave your country, your family, and your relatives and go to the land I will show you…Abram was seventy-five years old when the Lord told him to leave the city of Haran.  He obeyed and left with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all the possessions and slaves he had gotten while in Haran.” (Genesis 12:1, 4-5a)  And, what God began to impress upon my heart is that He called us to adoption…NOT to a specific country.  And, when He calls us, He wants us to obey, and He doesn’t have to give us the details.  Gulp.  That was a big lesson for me.  So, of course, we decided that our only option was to move forward…wherever He leads us.  If that means Ethiopia, fine.  If it means Bulgaria, fine.  If it means somewhere else, fine.  So, with that, we began the very practical steps of finishing up our paperwork.  In doing so, we had to list our country choices, 1 and 2.  So, I sent an e-mail to our agency rep to ask whether we should even put Ethiopia, or if we just put Bulgaria.  And, then, God showed off.  Her response to me was that in spite of all that Ethiopia has said about changing their system, that they have not seen ANY delays in the adoption process, nor do they expect any.  None.  I don’t even understand that.  But, that’s what she said.  So, all that time I spent questioning and wondering instead of obeying was wasted time, except for me learning a big lesson about doing more following and less talking.  J  So, much to our excitement, last week we received the final paperwork we were waiting for in the mail, and we were SO thrilled to mail our application and our first payment to our agency last Saturday!  Yay!  Step 1 down. 

In the middle of all of this, both Neal and I have both felt what we believe is spiritual attack.  It’s not been just one thing or event, but, much like my last post, just the compounding of several very real frustrations in our lives (some practical and some more emotional) and, already, some hurdles in our adoption process.  I think in the last month alone, our computer has had 3 different sets of issues...not working, not connecting to the internet, not printing, etc.  You name it.  And, frankly, when you are doing something as paperwork-intensive as adoption, it's a pretty vital thing to have a working computer system.  But, God has provided for us in that area as well.  As we have had one frustration after another come our way, it has caused us to really dig deep in God’s Word and find out what He has to say about hard times, trials, and suffering.  In just a period of a few days, God began speaking truth into our lives through His Word (on our own and verses shared with us by several friends), through a sermon I found by Francis Chan on YouTube (“Is Suffering Optional?” – it's broken up into five parts, but I highly recommend it!), and through a book that Neal has been going through with his Flock Group.  Crazy how when God is driving a point home to you, that He makes it in SEVERAL different ways to make sure that you are getting it!!! 

On top of it all, we started a new Bible Study with our Life Group – John MacArthur’s study on James.  As we started the first chapter, I came across a passage I could probably recite by heart…James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  For me, that’s a verse I have known for a LONG time.  But, this time, as I was reading it, I began to ask these questions:  “What does it mean to ‘consider’ it all joy?  In the MIDDLE of a trial, what does that even look like?” 

For some of you, it may seem weird to question what the Bible says, but I don’t think it is at all.  I think it’s only then – when we question scripture, when we dig deeper, when we seek God, when we ask for the input of others who have a genuine faith – that those verses become ALIVE to us.  It’s then that they are more than just words on a page.  I think we are meant to do more than just read the Bible.  We are meant to live it, and, it is meant to be LIFE to us.  Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to the dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  God’s Word is meant to guide and direct us, to instruct us in the paths we are to take, to set parameters for our life, and to help us break out of those parameters we have set for ourselves that reflect our hearts more than His (super tough!).  Simply put, it's meant to CHANGE us.  I think much of my Christian life has been spent reading the Word of God for knowledge, or to "check a box" to say I did it, and not so that I would be changed by it.  

So, then, how do we “consider it all joy” in the middle of a trial?  It’s SO much easier to have joy at the end of a tough time, especially those times when God wraps it all up nicely for us with a bow, and we get to “see” some of what He was doing.  God SO encouraged me last week as I discussed this passage with Neal, a close friend, and even my Life Group.  And, here’s what I learned from Him and through them.  Joy in the midst of trials is a supernatural thing.  It’s absolutely BEYOND our capability to face what some of us will in this lifetime and “consider it all joy.”  That kind of joy is the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence in our lives.  Joy is part of the fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) that He displays in us when our relationship with the Spirit of God is as it should be. 

And, what I have learned about finding joy in difficult times is that He is EVERYTHING that we need Him to be.  He is our provider, our help, our strength, our Father, our friend, and so much more.  And, even in the middle of trials, He gives to us in abundance.  Over these last few weeks, God has used others in our lives to answer prayers that were never voiced aloud.  He has moved in so many ways to let us know that He is ever-present in our lives and this process.  He has given us strength and encouragement to keep going when the road was really hard.  He has provided confirmation of His calling over and over again, even when we didn’t have a speck of doubt about it all.  And, on more than one occasion, He has heaped on blessing for no reason at all. 

One such blessing came to us last Sunday.  We work with the cute and highly energetic Kindergarten group at our church about two weeks each month.  A few weeks ago, we had a sweet little girl visiting our group, who I just KNEW was from Ethiopia.  However, when her Dad picked her up, I chickened out and didn’t ask him.  J  However, last Sunday, Neal and I were standing in the foyer at our church (which we never do) waiting to meet with some of our Life Group members, and this same beautiful little girl who I was so curious about runs up to say “hi” to me!  Yay!  I was SO excited to see her again, and then her Mom, whose name is Cathy, walked up.  We began to talk, and I found out that her daughter IS from Ethiopia and was only adopted a short time ago.  Of course, the connection began immediately !!!  I was SO encouraged by our conversation and hearing Cathy’s heart for adoption and how she has been praying for couples like us to be called to adoption.  She told me that by following God's call to adoption that WE  were an answer to HER prayers.  LOVE. IT.  Not only that, but we find out that we live in the same area of town.  Can you say "Wow!!?!!"  She ends up getting my e-mail, and we say “goodbye.”  As I meet back up with Neal, and I’m immediately telling him about Cathy, we run into her again, but this time with her husband.  So, now Neal gets to meet her husband, Mark, AND, a friend of theirs who is visiting them from Atlanta (whom they met while they were IN Ethiopia adopting their daughter and HE was adopting his son).  So, did you catch that?  God ordained for us to meet two families visiting our church who have adopted children from Ethiopia just a short time ago on the day after we submitted our own application!  We felt so overwhelmingly blessed that God would use that meeting to just show His love, grace, and goodness to us.  Truthfully, we were blown away! 

All that said, I am learning to CHOOSE joy…every day…sometimes several times a day.  It’s a choice I make to rely on Him to be everything I need.  And, just so you are up on the latest, the adoption application that we mailed last Saturday, arrived just one business day later at our adoption agency halfway across the country.  On Monday, I got a call from our agency rep to confirm they had received it.  Of course, it was also a request for a little more information.  J  But, that’s okay.  I am learning, as Cathy told me on Sunday, that this is a “paperwork pregnancy” and that the road will be long, and it will be hard, but as with our relationship with God, it will also be SO worth it.  And, I am hoping that with THIS “pregnancy,” there will be no heartburn.  J 

Thanks for sharing in the journey. 

Much love to you!